The Next Guardian, a documentary co-directed by former BBS producer Arun Bhattarai and Dorottya Zurbó of Hungary will compete in the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in Netherlands in November.
The documentary will be screened four times between November 15th and 22nd at the festival.
The Next Guardian will compete against 14 others in the category of IDFA Competition for First Appearance. The documentaries in the category compete for two awards – IDFA Award for Best First Appearance and IDFA Special Jury Award for First Appearance.
The 72-minute documentary produced at the cost of about Nu 4,000,000 finished filming in September.
Arun Bhattarai said that he is delighted to have the film screened at IDFA, an influential documentary film festival in the world. “It is a big platform to show a Bhutanese story to an international audience attended by film producers, directors and documentary film enthusiasts.”
Arun Bhattarai and Dorottya Zurbó are graduates from DocNomads Joint Masters in Lisbon, Budapest and Brussels. They worked together on many documentary projects on topics such as adolescence, migration, and multiculturalism. “Our different cultural backgrounds helped us approach these subjects with more sensitivity and formal experiments.”
Arun Bhattarai said that Bhutan is a country in transition and that the younger generation today are growing up with completely different dreams. “A documentary film can be a mirror to our society without being judgemental and saying what is right or what is wrong. As a film maker I am working to reflect the dreams and aspirations of young Bhutanese people in my film.”
The film explores the clash of dreams of two generations in an ancient Buddhist monastery in Bumthang when Gyembo, an ordinary teenager, is chosen as the next guardian of the family monastery by his father. The film brings to the fore the irony of two generations with contrasting dreams.
Arun Bhattarai said the story of the family living in the monastery gave possibilities to talk about more universal issues such as family, generation conflict, father-son relationship, and identity in our society.
The directors first got to know Tashi, the youngest daughter of the family who was participating in the selection camp of under 14 girls’ national football team in 2015. “I met Tashi at the girls’ football academy in Gelephu. Later, when we went to visit her family in Bumthang we discovered that there was a bigger story here,” Arun Bhattarai said.
He said that when they heard Tashi’s father refer to her as ‘he’ they felt they found something special. “We found a family in a traditional part of the world that is trying to find ways to understand the changing sexuality of their child in teen, with love and acceptance through their Buddhist interpretation of life.”
However, he said that in contrast to this acceptance, they found that there is a bigger conflict inside the family related to the inheritance of the monastery and family heritage. “That is why we decided to put the inheritance of the monastery at the centre of our story that represents the microcosm of a culture on the verge of change.” He added: “Through the personal journey of the siblings it becomes a modern tale of a forgotten part of the globe that you can rarely find in our uniformalised and globalised world anymore.”
Arun Bhattarai said the project was difficult because it is a long-term observational film that was made with minimum interference with reality. “It took a lot of time and patience to build my relationship with my characters and also to understand their dreams and worries so that I could build a story that was as close to their reality as possible.”
Arun Bhattarai said that after the film completes its festival circle, he wants to use it as a self-reflexive tool for the youth and their families in re-thinking existing values and societal norms. “I want to travel with my film to remote communities in Bhutan and involve them in talking about the themes in the film and have open discussions amidst audiences made up of varying generations.”
The production of the film was supported by Creative Europe Media Fund, the IDFA Bertha Fund and Ford Foundation. It also won funding supportat several international pitching forums.